Vanilla Cupcakes with American Buttercream Icing

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This is a basic vanilla cupcake with a sweet American buttercream icing. I ramble on below as I explain my cupcake journey, but feel free to ignore me and skip straight to the recipe at the bottom 🙂

More of you have been asking for quick and easy recipes, so I wanted to pull back on the 6 layer rainbow cakes to share a more basic recipe 🙂

A vanilla cupcake sounds so ordinary, yet I have eaten (and made) so many which just tasted dry, bland and unexciting. It is amazing how something this simple can actually go so wrong!

Often in baking, there are trade-offs, and the light and fluffy texture of a freshly baked cupcake can quickly dry out. I wanted to find a recipe which balanced the rich buttery flavour of a cupcake, with a soft and tender crumb, a slightly domed top and a decent shelf life that would still be relatively fluffy a day later. So demanding, I know! In addition to this, I wanted to create this with a few basic ingredients, which was even more challenging.

I have baked 100’s of cupcakes and tried different recipes to find the perfect balance. It is quite easy to achieve a more moist cupcake with oil instead of butter, but the rich buttery flavour is then lost. Adding sour cream also produces a more moist crumb, but we don’t always have sour cream lying around! I managed to put together a recipe with a few baking staples.


  • Using self-raising flour helps to control the amount of rise and ensure you do not end up with volcanoes or sink holes in the middle of your cupcake.
  • Having really soft butter is important for the mixing method which I describe below. Note that soft butter should not be melted, or oily. If you do poke at it however, you should easily be able to make an indent.
  • Adding just a bit of oil helps to make the crumb extra moist, but not making the cupcake too heavy.
  • Using the correct weight of eggs are important.
  • Making sure that your eggs and milk are at room temperature. It will not whip up to full volume if it is cold.
  • Reverse creaming the mixture. This is an incredibly easy method, which relies on beating the butter together with the flour and sugar. The fat molecules of the butter inhibit the gluten formation producing a softer crumb.
  • Baking it at a slightly lower temperature to ensure more even baking.
  • The icing for this recipe is enough for a single piping of icing. If you want to pipe high swirls, I suggest doubling the recipe.

As for the frosting paired with this cupcake, I used an American buttercream. I really find this buttercream too sweet and prefer Swiss meringue, cream cheese or this super yummy maple cream cheese. Every baker however, wants a recipe for simple buttercream, so I thought to include it here. Adding in some whipping cream to the American buttercream helps to lighten the texture and the sweetness. That’s not always easily accessible however, so I use milk when I do not have whipping cream at home.

This is definitely the best version of a my vanilla cupcakes that I have made to date. It is light and fluffy, without drying out quickly. I am constantly inventing my basic recipes as I try to improve on them, so there may very well be an updated version in a few months. Until then, I hope you enjoy this 🙂

I have updated this recipe on 18 September 2020, after more recipe testing and adjustment.


  • 105g softened butter, at room temperature, cut into 2cm cubes
  • 2 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 3 large eggs (weighing a total of around 144g outside the shell, ie. 48g each)
  • 30ml milk
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla essence


  1. Pre-heat your oven to 170 degrees Celcius. Line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners.
  2. Sift the self-raising flour, sugar and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl.
  3. Add the cubed butter and oil to the dry ingredients.
  4. In another bowl, add the eggs, milk and vanilla and stir to incorporate everything (you do not have to whisk this vigorously).
  5. Pour in half of the wet ingredients into the bowl with the butter and dry ingredients.
  6. Beat for about 30 seconds until everything is incorporated.
  7. Then add in the rest of the wet ingredients and mix for another minute to make sure everything is incorporated and the mixture has increased a bit in volume.
  8. Fill the cupcake liners up until three quarters full and bake for 16 to 18 minutes, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
  9. Allow these cupcakes to cool to room temperature, then store in an airtight container until ready to use.


  • 170g butter, softened
  • 350g icing sugar, sifted
  • 2 – 3 tbs of whipping cream or full fat milk
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla essence (unless this is colourless, it will tint your buttercream a bit)


  1. Cream the butter well for at least 5 minutes to get it volumised. It will be fluffy and whitened. This is really important to do.
  2. Add in half the icing sugar and beat for 3 minutes.
  3. Then add in the remaining icing sugar and beat for another five minutes.
  4. Then, mix the milk with the vanilla and add in a tablespoon at a time until you get the right consistency, mixing for another minute.

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